With Halloween approaching, you may want to consider handing out peanut-free candies to the little ones this year.
Peanut butter and jam toast, peanut butter cookies, trail mix, honey-roasted peanuts – those were a few of my favorite things! My grandson has a peanut allergy, so gone are the days of indulging in anything with peanuts.
He was only two when my daughter had to call an ambulance after feeding him a bit of peanut butter. Thankfully she recognized what was happening.
Almost immediately his nose was starting to run, he was drooling (because his throat was constricting), and his lips started to swell. That was due to the start of an anaphylaxis reaction, which if not treated, could have become life threatening.
Despite its name, peanuts are a legume and not a nut. Other legumes include peas, soybeans and lentils, to name a few.
Peanuts are indeed nutritious, containing vitamin E, niacin, folate and monounsaturated fats (the good kind of fat). They are delicious too.
The peanut is a unique plant. Once the flowers are in full bloom, they get heavy and droop toward the ground. Somehow they burrow under the soil, which is where the peanut grows.
Peanut allergies in children under age 18 have more than doubled within the last 20 years. According to The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the prevalence of peanut allergy was .4% in 1997, and 1.4% in 2008. In another 2014 study, as reported by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, the rate was 2%.
A peanut allergy happens when the body’s immune system reacts to the peanut proteins as something harmful. As a result, the immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream which causes the allergic reaction.
There are a few theories about why peanut allergies have increased. One such theory points to there being far less adverse reactions in Asian countries compared with North America; some think this is because of the way the peanut is processed. In Asian and other countries the peanuts are boiled versus the North American preference of dry roasting them. Different processing methods affect how the antibodies react to the peanut.
A doctor will determine whether a particular food is an allergy, or the less severe food intolerance. One test is the skin test. A small amount of food is placed on the skin then pricked with a needle. A raised bump or reaction indicates an allergy. The other test is the blood test, that measures the allergy antibodies in the blood.
Aside from the obvious trigger of eating foods containing peanuts, the less obvious triggers are from foods that may not contain peanuts, but have been merely exposed to peanuts. This can happen during packaging at a food processing plant where peanut products are produced.
The allergy may also be triggered by peanut flour dust in the air, or through aerosols containing peanut oil in cooking spray.
If a food package does not have the peanut free symbol, we must read all the ingredients. If the product states, “processed in a facility where peanuts are processed”, then that is not a safe product. Quite often there will be a list of all known allergens right after the ingredient listing.
Of all the food-related anaphylaxis reactions, the most common cause is the peanut.
The treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine (adrenaline). There are different brands of these injectors, EpiPen is the one most people are familiar with.
Prior to leaving the house, we always ask my grandson, “Do you have your Epi”? He carries it in a special case attached to a belt around his waist, rather like a “fanny pack”, but just the size to fit the EpiPen and its container. He needs to take it everywhere he goes.
There are many venues that have peanut or nut safe items on the menu. At the baseball stadium, there is a peanut-free section. It is imperative when eating out anywhere that the serving personnel are informed the customer has an allergy.
There are venues that need to be avoided. For example, bulk food stores where the product is not wrapped individually. Even though an ingredient may not contain peanuts, there is the risk of cross contamination through sharing of the scoop from bin to bin, or something being inadvertently dropped into the bin. Most donut shops need to be avoided as well.
When I went to school my favorite lunch was a peanut butter sandwich. Now, almost all schools have a peanut free policy.
Fortunately, many food manufacturers are now making foods with a peanut free version so it makes it easier for parents to provide the same type of snacks. They range from nut free granola bars to a peanut butter-like product made from sunflower seeds.
It’s not only our food that we have to think about. A few years back we were going to buy some hamsters, but found out that no hamster or gerbil food was peanut free. So, we ended up with a guinea pig. I also have to watch what kind of bird food I buy for the feeders outside – I stick with Niger seed or black oil sunflowers.
Through due diligence we are fortunate my grandson has never had another anaphylaxis reaction. He knows not to eat anything unless he can be assured of the ingredients, and avoids anything that states “may contain peanuts”. Thankfully, there is the EpiPen for any unforeseen emergency.
The following are two good instructional videos available on YouTube; the first gives general instructions about severe allergic reactions, and the second shows how to actually use the EpiPen. Even if you don’t have an allergy, it’s good to know how to use one should you need to assist somebody else.